To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.
In the summer of 1918, Buster leaves his new life in film to become a soldier.
SERIES OF SHOTS: BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT
From “The Butcher Boy”: Roscoe shoves Buster; he falls and does a head spin.
From “His Wedding Night”: Buster, in a wedding dress, laughs and winks.
From “The Bell Boy”: “Bell Boy” Buster and “Guest” Joe Keaton tussle in a hotel lobby with a mop and pail.
From “The Cook”: “Waiter” Buster and “Cook” Roscoe dance as if they belong in a harem.
CLOSE ON: Buster’s slinky dance …
END SERIES OF SHOTS: BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT
INT. ROSCOE’S EDITING ROOM – 1918 – DAY
… pull back to reveal Buster’s slinky dance is on film running through a moviola. Roscoe sits in front of the machine editing “The Cook.”
Standing behind Roscoe, Buster (age 22) examines a reel of film up to the light. He is not happy.
Where’s my bit with the tablecloth?
Roscoe pulls a coil of film from a garbage can, drops it back in.
You liked it. You laughed.
I liked it, I laughed, I can’t have thirty seconds of subtle in a twenty minute short.
So we keep on givin’ ‘em the same tired routines.
Buster, your pa did nothin’ but throw you across a stage two shows a day, and folks ate it up for nineteen years.
And when I joined this crew I thought it was about tryin’ for something different, something better.
Everybody sittin’ out there is twelve years old. They want to see us plastered with pies and knocked on our asses in as many ways as we can figure out.
And who is the boss here?
You are, Chief.
Correct. Now splice the reaction shots into this first reel.
Roscoe returns to his work on the moviola.
Aw, get over it ya touchy little girl.
No. I quit. I got an offer; I’m takin’ it.
Angry, Roscoe turns and bellows at his employee.
You ungrateful weasel. I teach you everything I know. Give you more say than anybody around here, and I don’t even get in the bidding?
(hint of a smile)
You can’t top Uncle Sam.
Confusion then shock replaces the anger on Roscoe’s face.
What? You got drafted? You’re goin’ to France!
That’s where the war is. I gotta report tomorrow. I was gonna head out early to start packin’, if the boss don’t mind.
No, go on … it’s … Jesus!
At a loss, Roscoe gets up and goes to Buster. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his wallet, takes all the money out and offers it to Buster who is astonished and pushes it away. Roscoe presses the cash into Buster’s hand and folds his hand over it.
You might want something better than dog chow once in a while.
Roscoe’s eyes well with tears.
You got a job here, see, so you better not ….
Roscoe chokes on his words, hugs Buster. Unable to deal with deep emotion, Buster pulls away after a moment, keeping it light.
No worries, Chief. I’m the Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged, remember?
With a smile, Buster pockets the money, grabs his coat, and departs. A devastated Roscoe sinks back on his chair.
EXT. ARMY RECRUITING OFFICE – DAY
Buster gets out of Natalie’s Packard and grabs his bag from the rumble seat. Natalie slides over from the driver’s seat to the passenger door and gets up on her knees to face him.
She is Awkward Incarnate as she fumbles a ring from her pocket. It slips. Buster catches it in mid-air. She puts it on his finger, it won’t slide down. He helps. She fondles the ring on his hand.
She pecks him on the cheek, pushes away, hops back to the driver’s seat and drives off. Buster watches, unreadable.
He hefts his bag and joins one of the two lines of MEN at the Recruitment Center. An army SERGEANT with a clipboard comes out of the building, walks to the line Buster is in.
All you men with draft notices stay in this line. If you’re enlisting get in the other one.
Buster picks up his bag and moves to the other line.
I realize having a moviola in this scene is historically inaccurate since the editing device was not in production for this purpose until 1924, but it ties in with the previous scene and works better as a transition. Just keep telling yourself: It’s only a movie ….